The troubled tenure of City Manager Mike Matthes — marred recently by conflicts over community policing and stagnant wages for city employees — comes to an end Wednesday.
Matthes announced his resignation Tuesday, a day after the Columbia City Council — led by Mayor Brian Treece — questioned his handling of changes to the police department’s community policing efforts.
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Betsy Peters described Matthes as “sort of beleaguered” and said she was not surprised by his resignation. Peters said she doesn’t believe his departure was prompted solely by conflicts over community policing.
“I don’t think it was just COU. … I think it’s been the last year of difficult city council meetings,” Peters said.
Hired in 2011 after years in leadership positions in city government in Des Moines, Iowa, Matthes’ resignation takes effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday, according to a city news release.
Deputy City Manager John Glascock will serve as acting city manager until the council can appoint an interim city manager.
On Monday, the council is scheduled to meet and consider Matthes’ severance package, according to the news release. His salary in fiscal year 2018 was $165,521, plus $13,346 in other compensation, according to the city’s website.
He’ll likely walk away with a year’s salary, Fifth Ward Councilman Matt Pitzer said. In 2012, the council doubled Matthes’ severance pay from six months to a full year as a “vote of confidence” in his abilities.
The mayor and several city council members either declined to comment about Matthes’ resignation or did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday. Matthes also did not respond to several attempts to reach him Tuesday.
Second Ward Councilman Mike Trapp said the mayor asked the council to refrain from commenting until after Monday’s meeting on the severance package.
Steve Sapp, the city’s spokesman, said Treece wouldn’t speak until after Monday’s meeting.
“It has been a pleasure to work with City staff and community members,” the statement read. “We’ve accomplished many great things and I hope you all will continue to work hard to achieve the goals of the City and the community.”
Treece’s statement was positive as well.
"On behalf of the City Council, I want to thank Mike Matthes for his service as the city manager of Columbia," it read. "His work helped improve the odds of success for everyone by creating an economy with family-supporting jobs and strengthening our community so all individuals can thrive."
Recently, Matthes — and Police Chief Ken Burton — had been dealing with intense criticism from Race Matters, Friends about how community policing was being developed in Columbia.
In a statement, Race Matters, Friends said it supported Matthes’ resignation. It also recommended that citizens advocate for Burton’s resignation.
Burton did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
After holding public forums across the city, Matthes and Police Sgt. Robert Fox spent several months writing a report that concluded a tax increase was necessary in order to fund an effective version of community policing. The report called for $11 million over the next five years to pay 60 additional officers.
Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, president of Race Matters, Friends, has said the criticism focused more on the city not embracing a community policing philosophy, in the group’s view, as opposed to any amount of resources being devoted.
Early last week, an email Deputy Chief Jill Schlude sent to officers was leaked to the press. In it, she said fewer officers would be committed to community policing.
In a press conference after the email came to light, Matthes said the city’s community policing efforts were being changed but not abandoned. The new model was a way to implement community policing with the limited resources at the city’s disposal, he said.
Matthes has long stressed the city’s limited resources.
In July, during his address on the city’s budget, Matthes said the city’s inability to bring in revenue was inhibiting funding of projects and departments. He called for raising the city’s property tax to make up for declining sales tax revenue, but the council soundly rejected it.
How much to raise city employee wages also divided Matthes and the council.
Electric line workers have been leaving the city in an “exodus” because of poor pay, and trash collection has been hampered because of trouble hiring and retaining enough workers, according to previous Missourian reporting.
The council wanted to increase the pay for trash collectors by $2, but Matthes maintained the city could only afford a 25-cent pay increase for all city employees.
Matthes also got into a public spat with the Columbia Police Officers Association.
In 2015, Dale Roberts, the organization’s executive director, claimed Matthes broke his promise to hire more police officers, which Matthes called a “lie,” according to previous Missourian reporting. Later, Matthes requested that Roberts be fired.
Roberts’ statement Tuesday struck a conciliatory tone.
“While the CPOA and City Manager Matthes have not always seen eye to eye, we can certainly appreciate the difficulty he faced in representing over 120,000 constituents with conflicting interests,” Roberts said in the statement.
Rank-and-file officers also criticized Matthes over his role in the firing of Rob Sanders, a police officer who was fired for using excessive force. An Internal Affairs Unit found Sanders acted within department policy, but Burton fired him anyway.
In a hearing this year in a civil case Sanders filed, Matthes stood by the firing.
Matthes grew up in Chillicothe, Missouri, and his mom graduated from MU. In 1996, he graduated from Iowa State University with a master’s degree in public administration.
He then joined the city of Des Moines as an intern, rising to assistant city manager in 2001.
His colleagues in Des Moines said he seemed to have an innate ability to understand the challenges facing a city and how to navigate them. Among city employees, he was known as “Mr. Fix It,” according to previous Missourian reporting.
When he started as Columbia’s city manager, Matthes said he wanted to leave Columbia “in better shape than I found it.”
“It’s the Athenian Oath, right? That’s the fundamental oath that we all take, I think,” he told the Missourian in 2011.
Supervising editor is Ruby L. Bailey.